When I said that Corey Lewandowski, then Trump’s campaign manager, had grabbed and bruised me at a rally in 2016, Trump World called me a liar.
“It’s a hoax,” pro-Trump voices on Twitter and in parts of right-wing media claimed. They reasoned that I, a Breitbart reporter sent to cover the rally, had teamed up with The Washington Post’s Ben Terris, who witnessed the incident and wrote about it, to bring down the Trump campaign. I had faked the bruises on my arm and manufactured the audio recording of the incident.
It was all a crazy conspiracy theory. At the time, I assumed that many Trump supporters didn’t actually believe it; they just latched onto it because of partisan zealotry. But I’m starting to think that I was wrong. Perhaps they really did believe that I made up the story, because they themselves were capable of such a thing.
On Wednesday, the White House revoked the press pass of the CNN reporter Jim Acosta for “placing his hands on a young woman,” according to a tweet by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Sanders was referring to an incident at the post–midterm election White House press conference. An intern went to take a microphone away from Acosta during a testy exchange he was having with the president, and Acosta refused to give up the mic.
You can watch the video for yourself. If you do, I’m sure you’ll agree that if there was any contact, it was purely incidental and Acosta didn’t initiate it. You can accuse Acosta of grandstanding, but he didn’t come close to assaulting a young female intern.
But observable reality doesn’t seem to be causing any concern in the White House press shop. On Thursday, Sanders doubled down, tweeting out a new video, which appears to have been doctored, to try to prove that Acosta karate-chopped the young intern. Later still, she again tried to justify the administration’s decision: “The question is: Did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear; he did. We stand by our statement.”
And now the same people who claimed I was lying about what happened to me in 2016 are standing behind these ludicrous White House accusations.
In fact, it’s some of the exact same people. The seemingly doctored video was first shared by Paul Joseph Watson, a contributor to the far-right site Infowars who in 2016 repeatedly claimed that I was nothing more than a hoaxer.
I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that the term used for this phenomenon is projection. I was accused of doing something I would never even think of doing by people who thought I might have done it precisely because they themselves were capable of doing it. Acosta-gate is the perfect example of this.
But it isn’t the only example. The president labels the media “fake news” but is happy to promote fake news for political purposes. Just look at his Twitter feed.
Even if the president’s team really believed that Acosta had assaulted a White House intern, their outrage would be hypocritical at best; just weeks ago at a rally in Montana, the president joked about the time the state’s congressman had body slammed a reporter.
If you go to the White House press shop expecting sincerity, you haven’t been paying attention.
The president has been wanting to escalate his war with the media for some time by revoking a journalist’s press pass, according to news reports. This was a political move by a president who sees the press as a useful political foil.
But it is also a dangerous move. It’s dangerous because it is a further assault on objective truth. It’s dangerous because we live in a time when political radicals on all sides seem willing to act violently, whether it is by sending pipe bombs to the president’s perceived enemies, including CNN, or threatening to break into Tucker Carlson’s house.
What’s more, it’s unfair to the young female intern who is being thrust into this political maelstrom. As far as we know, she hasn’t accused anybody of anything. It appears that the White House is using her for its own political ends.
Like I said, I’m no psychologist. But it seems to me that none of this leads anywhere healthy.